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The BBC's Duncan Kennedy reports
"In Los Angeles alone there are 4 million Latinos"
 real 28k

Sunday, 26 December, 1999, 09:25 GMT
Hispanic Americans live the vida loca

Ricky Martin Ricy Martin: symbol of Hispanic power in the United States

By Duncan Kennedy in Los Angeles

1999 has been lift-off for all things Latino, with Puerto Rican heart-throb Ricky Martin leading the assault.

In the United States alone, his smash-hit single Livin' La Vida Loca has sold a million copies.

The album from which it is taken has sold about six million copies.

It is not just in the world of entertainment that the statistics surrounding the Hispanic population are truly staggering.

In the United States there are now about 30 million people of Latin origin.

In just 50 years' time, that figure is expected to triple to 90 million.

Hispanic people will then make up a quarter of the total population of the United States.

Toe-tapping salsa

Peruvian Pan flute player Hispanic culture is visible everywhere in Los Angeles
Within two minutes of arriving in downtown Los Angeles, I had come across a Peruvian pipe band playing a toe-tapping salsa number in one of the parks.

There was also a Mariachis band serenading the customers of a nearby restaurant.

Wherever you go here be prepared to sway and dance to the music.

I hit upon a wonderful wedding chapel off Third street.

The place looked like a shop front - and nothing like a chapel.

There were two speakers blurting out the wedding-procession theme.

Inside, the young couple handed over their $200 and lined up to get married.

Gustava and Susanna Gustava and Susanna are a typical Latino couple
It was as simple as that. The chapel hosts up to 18 weddings a day. I met Susanna and Gustava.

They made a charming couple. Gustava in his tight fitting black tuxedo and Susanna, dazzling in her white bridal gown.

It was not St Paul's Cathedral in London, or St Peter's in Rome or Notre Dame in Paris. But they were a young man and woman who wanted to get married.

Gustava and Susanna are typical Latinos. They are young and, crucially, they both have the right to vote.

The number of Hispanic people registered to vote in California has doubled in the past 10 years.

Political power

It is no wonder that presidential hopefuls are taking notice of people like Gustava and Susanna.

Goerge W and Latino child Goerge W Bush courts the Hispanic vote
The Republican nominee front runner, George W Bush, has already recorded a Spanish language campaign commercial.

One of the leading Democrat contenders, Al Gore, has a Spanish page on his web site.

I also found that it is too simplistic just to talk about "the Hispanic" vote.

It is more complicated than that. There are two views: those who believe that Latinos have arrived in force and those who think that an expanding population alone does not mean political influence.

Eduardo Domingez is a young man of Mexican origin. He runs a local Spanish TV station, and the picture for him, so to speak, is clear.

Senator Escutia Senator Escutia: "Hispanic people have not arrived ... yet."
He believes Hispanics are a force to be reckoned with. It was not just because he was wearing a suit so expensive that it made me feel like a pauper.

It was, he says, because he has the likes of Ford, Coca-Cola and Pepsi all knocking on his door to get their commercials on air.

Martha Escutia, a Democratic Senator from California, is more cautious.

"No, Hispanic people have not 'arrived' in political terms yet."
Martha Escutia, Democratic Senator

In her wood-panelled office surrounded by pictures of her family she put it this way:

"No, Hispanic people have not 'arrived' in political terms yet."

Instead, she likens them to a sleeping giant that has only yawned, but not yet woken up.

Well, we will know whether the giant has got out of bed in next November's election.

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See also:
21 Oct 99 |  Entertainment
Ricky shakes the States
12 Jul 99 |  Entertainment
Going 'loco' for Ricky
11 Sep 99 |  Americas
US minorities urged to boycott TV
04 Nov 98 |  Americas
Hispanics vote in US mid-term elections
23 Oct 98 |  US midterms
Al Gore: On the trail for 2000
29 Oct 98 |  US midterms
George W Bush: Republican front-runner

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